The selection of Luke Kuechly on Thursday night raised a number of questions among Panthers fans; what would this mean for Thomas Davis? How could the Panthers generate a pass rush? Would the team be moving to a 3-4? There has been a misguided assumption for a while now that Ron Rivera's long term goal for the Carolina Panthers will be to move them to a 3-4 defense, like the one he ran in San Diego. Despite the organization saying on numerous occasions they would continue to run a 4-3 base D, the questions only got more pronounced when Kuechly was the pick- the Panthers fourth solid linebacker.
On Saturday morning I posited that perhaps the long term plan wasn't to have a pass rush that operated solely out of the base set, but rather one with varied fronts. To this end we could see some 4-4 looks (like Rivera employed in Chicago), but more interesting would be a variation on the 46 defense that Rivera was a member of with the 1985 Chicago Bears. There's a false assumption that the uber-aggressive defense has no role in a pass happy NFL, but to the contrary the Ryan brothers- Rex and Rob, have been using 46 looks to great success in New York and Dallas respectively.
This is by no means a base defense, and the Panthers will still operate out of their 4-3, but don't be surprised if we see some 46 looks in 2012. After the jump I'll be looking at the tenets of the 46 defense, and the personnel the Panthers could employ
More after the jump
At its very most basic level, the 46 defense is about rushing with five players from odd angles to create dangerous mismatches. It's a gambit that puts the onus on the rushers to get to the QB before the cornerbacks inevitably get lost by the WRs. It's a dangerous defense, but when employed right is absolutely staggering.
As you can see it's a defensive look that allows the Panthers to play all four of their linebackers in different roles.
- Kuechly is working the edge against the tight end
- Beason is shooting the gap between TE and RT
- Anderson is shooting the gap between RT and RG
- Davis is shooting the gap between the LT and LG
It's a defense that's really all-or-nothing, and relies heavily on both Chris Gamble and the #2 CB (presumed to be Brandon Hogan) to play bump coverage against their man and do enough to disrupt their route early on. The 46 isn't asking the corners to cover the man down the field alone, but to disrupt long enough for the pass rushers to get through. At safety Charles Godfrey is deep, and in the figure Davis is playing a hybrid SS/LB role where he can drop in coverage where needed, rather than shooting the gap.
At defensive end Greg Hardy gets to start with a free release to work on the LT. This is an excellent role for him where he would be asked to get out of his stance and battle in the trenches. Though not labeled, I have the defensive tackles in this scheme to be filled by Jason Shirley, Ron Edwards and Charles Johnson respectively. The idea is for Edwards to hold the point of attack, Shirley to command a double from the RG and RT, and Johnson to penetrate against the LG.
Ostensibly you're bringing pressure from eight different places, and having the offense only have six blockers. With the speed across the linebacking group there's little doubt someone would get through. Furthermore, I believe the drafting of Frank Alexander and Josh Norman also fill the roles needed in a 46- Alexander would take Hardy's spot where needed, and Norman would take Hogan's.
Obviously none of us know what the plans are on defense, but this is but one way we could see the Panthers generate pass rush without a traditional 4-3 front.